Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

Only One Known

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

Only One Known

Article excerpt

From each of the storage drawers in the Leiden museum

where specimens lie in their lonely multitudes, a dry

and not unpleasant smell arises, of

"never mind, not so interesting after all" -

permission to shut it again.

One drawer holds the only known example

of the otherwise unremarkable bird

christened Sharpe's rail. The only one known

to have been seen, alive or dead,

by anyone. Bought from a dealer in Amsterdam

in die 1860s, a furled double handful

of drab black feathers, dull dark beak,

origin unknown. Another bastard

of promiscuous chance, who populates land and sea.

Perhaps, like the laughing owl, it had

a taste for accordion music;

or, like the Rodriguez solitaire,

it shed tears when captured.

Perhaps in its fruidess search for a mate

it mingled with the pink-headed ducks

in the semi-sacred swamps of the sacred Ganges,

or braved the thin air of the foothills

with the Himalayan mountain quail.

Its feathers, in life, may not have been this color.

Its cry was raucous; no, its voice was sweet.

Its flesh tasted rancid, or so delicious

that predators gave it no peace

and left none for us: Behold the sole fowl

untasted by man. Or it could have

come from one of those happy islands

on which sailing ships conferred

lavish gifts of rats, until

the land wore a seething surface of fur;

pink toes bent and scrambled over

eggshells long licked clean. …

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